The World Is Watching: Media Attacks Obama’s ‘Soviet-style’ Publicity Policy

Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Obama’s Soviet-style Media Control. Photo by Official State-Approved Photographer Pete Souza/The White House

Major media organizations protest against being shut out of president’s events in favor of official photographer

 writes:  Barack Obama’s White House has been accused of producing Soviet-style propaganda by press photographers who are furious at being denied access to the US president.

Mr Obama’s aides routinely block independent photographers from capturing him at work, before distributing flattering pictures shot by Pete Souza, his official photographer.

During a tense meeting at the White House, the practice was described by Doug Mills, a veteran photographer for The New York Times, as “just like TASS,” the Soviet Union state news agency.

More than 30 major US media organisations and the leading US press photographers’ union have protested against being barred from covering Mr Obama in an open letter to his press secretary.

“Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties,” said the letter, which was delivered to Jay Carney.

“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government.”

Aides to Mr Obama stress that US administrations and the press corps have been arguing about access to the commander-in-chief for several decades.

However, they have been accused of shutting out journalists more frequently than ever before. On the very first day of Mr Obama’s presidency, he retook the oath of office behind closed doors after stumbling over his words during his inauguration ceremony.

And his White House has taken advantage of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, to publish an unprecedented number of officially-approved pictures. The protest letter from media groups accused them of “replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases.”

Outlets such as USA Today and McClatchy newspapers have announced they will not publish the “hand-out” photographs distributed by the White House.

Editors said the policy would remain in place except for “very extraordinary circumstances” involving national security, such as when Mr Obama and senior colleagues were photographed in the White House situation room during the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Mr Carney said in a statement that Mr Obama’s press officials were “working to address some of the concerns raised”.

“We certainly do not believe that official photos released by the White House are a substitute for the work of independent journalists,” he said.

Mr Souza responded tartly to the criticism by posting to Twitter a picture he took on November 21 of seven photographers capturing the President signing a bill. Press photographers were again allowed into the Oval Office to capture Mr Obama as he signed a bill on November 27.

However the concessions were dismissed as a fig leaf by Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

“We do not believe that this event or others that occurred after our letter are anything more than a thinly veiled attempt to trivialise our complaints by claiming that photographers are not being denied access,” Mr Osterreicher told The Daily Telegraph.


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